On Karen Finney and Why We Don't Take Race Polls on Twitter

Tim Graham asked his followers to weigh in on new MSNBC host Karen Finney's blackness. The "average" person can "guess" that this approach is absurd.

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Karen Finney (MSNBC)

(The Root) -- Welcome to America, where we have a long and complicated history with race, racial mixing, racism and racial identity. Here, we understand that race is a social construct without a biological basis. But we also understand that that social construct has real-life relevance, and we let people make their own decisions about their ethnic identity. Because there's not any better way. Especially not taking Twitter polls on what the "average" person "would guess."

That's the note we wish someone had sent to right-wing Media Research Center "watchdog" (his own description) Tim Graham before he took to the social network today to challenge MSNBC on its description of political analyst Karen Finney as an "African-American host" in its announcement of her new show. Finney wrote in a 2010 Huffington Post piece about being the descendant of slaves and is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists, Salon's Joan Walsh reported today. But it's not her opinion that matters; it's the result of an unofficial poll of strangers, right?

"Would the average viewer be able to guess that? Or is Boehner a shade more tan?" Graham asked. He then presented a photo for scrutiny.

(Side note: Rep. John Boehner is "a shade more tan" than about 35 percent of African-American people, and as far as we can tell, he pays good money for that deep glow. His cosmetic choices have not led anyone to e-confiscate the racial identities of Valerie Jarrett, Mariah Carey, Michael Ealy, Charlie Rangel, Cory Booker, Harry Belafonte, Boris Kodjoe or Nicole Ari Parker, or anyone else in Finney's complexion range. Interestingly, Graham doesn't question the Republican speaker's whiteness in light of all this data, but that's another story.)

Long story short: The "average" person can "guess" that Graham might not be familiar with a very wide range of black people, now or throughout history.

Not letting that stop him, Graham -- with the assistance of his trusty Twitter followers -- seems to be living out a fantasy as the official "watchdog" of blackness. Clearly, if he really had that job, he'd be pretty darn stingy, especially when doing so served his attack on a network associated with his political foes.

Luckily for Finney (and the rest of us, this writer included), his opinion doesn't matter in the least.

So, while Graham hopefully gives himself a crash course in Racial ID 101, we'll go ahead and congratulate MSNBC's newest African-American -- or however she chooses to identify herself going forward -- host on her new show.

Jenée Desmond-Harris is The Root's staff writer. Follow her on Twitter.

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Sept. 19 2014 8:34 AM